Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

New Mexico Public Education Department asks lawmakers for $4.4B

New Mexico’s Public Education Department is requesting $4.4 billion dollars for its next fiscal year to distribute among administrative costs, local school districts and charters.

The state’s 89 school districts and public education officials are asking the 2024 legislature to approve an increase in budgets totalling more than $276 million, about a 6% increase from last year.

About $592 million of the Fiscal Year 2025 budget will be one-time money that comes primarily from the state’s general fund, according to a Legislative Education Study Committee report.

The main responsibilities for New Mexico’s schools will include approving each district’s budget, overseeing and accrediting school districts.

New Mexico funds its districts using a formula based partly on district size, student enrollments and teacher experience, not property taxes collected from around a school district. Last school year, New Mexico public and charter schools reported 305,563 students enrolled.

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Public education accounts for nearly half the money spent from New Mexico’s general fund that provides money for state government functions. It is the largest single budget item.

Public education secretary Arsenio Romero said the $4 million additional request from the state’s general fund is “absolutely necessary” during a presentation Thursday before the interim Legislative Finance Committee.

“But it also really, in my opinion, is the bare minimum of the requested increases that we have to be able to support [districts] next year,” Romero said.

Gregory Frostad runs policy, research and technology with New Mexico public schools and said the operational budget for this division was “miniscule” and a fraction of a percent of the billions managed by the department.

The vacancy rate at the Public Education Department is at 21% with 15 new hires to start in January, Arsenio said.

In October, that vacancy rate was at 24%. He credited recently opened satellite offices for the agency in Albuquerque and Las Cruces for improving recruitment.

The nitty-gritty budget asks

Additional public school budget requests for the upcoming session:

  •     $107.1 million for out-of-school learning time and tutoring.
  •     $30.6 million for funding bilingual education, Black education, Hispanic education and Native American education.
  •     $20 million for attendance. When asked what exactly PED will do, Arsenio said part of the funding would go to attendance coaches “to work directly with families,” to address issues such as transportation. He also said other programs include credit-recovery programs for high school students.
  •     $43.5 million for universal free school meals.
  •     $16 million for an integrated emergency communications system to allow the Public Education Department to speak to schools, local police departments and state police. **

Arsenio said the department needs additional funds to focus on disabled students.

He described hiring additional support staff for local school districts, increased training, a new statewide framework for individual educational plans (IEPs) for disabled students and offering better pay for special education teachers.

He said the $11 million necessary for special education initiatives, $5 million would go to building a statewide IEP plan.

$2 million would increase staffing at the agency.

$3 million would be spent on professional development.

Another $1 million would go to behavioral management training.

A separate $32 million would be earmarked for salary differentials for special education.

“We have a number of teachers that are in classrooms right now with special education degrees and licenses, but not using them,” Arsenio said, adding that programs supported by the budget increase would incentivize them to work in special education classrooms.

When it comes to staffing, the agency asked for $126 million for a 4% increase for all staff, and a separate $5.2 million to pay for a 10% increase for school bus drivers.

Spending $47.9 million, much of those federal dollars, Arsenio said, would support teacher residencies for students in schools, and paid student teaching for more than 1,100 positions.

He said another $3.8 million would be used to add 40 residency positions for principals, counselors and social workers.

Questions from lawmakers

Arsenio faced questions from lawmakers about the agency’s ability to spend the money it’s given, address issues such as chronic absenteeism and inequities in education.

Rep. Debra Sariñana (D-Albuquerque), a retired teacher, asked how PED measures success in using attendance coaches and other programs to address truancy.

“In many areas we are seeing some successes, but not nearly what we need,” Arsenio responded.

N.M.’s long road to give Yazzie/Martinez students a quality education

Sen. Derrick Lente (D-Sandia Pueblo) said that the state is still reckoning with the 2018 Yazzie-Martinez landmark ruling that requires education policies to be reshaped.

A district judge ruled in 2018  that New Mexico violated the constitutional right to equal education for students living in poverty, English-language learners, Native American students and students with disabilities.

Lente noted that Arsenio is the fourth secretary to run New Mexico’s public education department since the Yazzie-Martinez case judgment, and asked when PED will “deliver some type of plan of action on the ruling itself?”

“We’re at the tail end of really having that plan ready to share with the public,” he said.

Lente was skeptical.

“I don’t diminish that plan of action, or your hopefulness in that,” he said. “I appreciate your optimism, but I’ve heard in the past two years that ‘we’re so close to publishing something, or having a final draft,’ and here we are in December 2023, and we don’t have a plan yet.”

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